June 19, 2013
Proposals lack substance or are contingent on agreement with an antagonized Russia
Huge new investments in new U.S. warheads, factories, delivery systems not mentioned
Albuquerque — Despite recent press reports to the contrary (e.g. by Peter Baker and David Sanger in the New York Times), yesterday’s speech by President Obama in Berlin and the accompanying White House fact sheet failed to include either any concrete steps toward nuclear disarmament or any concrete improvements in the management of the massive U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise.
In recent decades, Republican presidents have overseen large reductions in nuclear arms while Democratic administrations have not. The Obama administration has not yet seen nuclear reductions comparable (in absolute or relative terms) to those of his immediate predecessor.
In today’s speech and fact sheet, the administration promises to cut deployed strategic warheads by “up to one third,” but only if Russia—the U.S. relationship with which has deteriorated over recent months and years—does the same. Prospects for this cooperation are uncertain at best, given the deep divisions between the two countries on strategic issues, especially missile defense, and the Syrian civil war.
The speech, fact sheet, and at least some major press articles conflate concrete decisions with stated intentions and goals. The “disarmament” provisions of the announcement fall into the latter category. There were no concrete disarmament decisions announced.
Some of what Mr. Obama proposed has been nominally underway for years, e.g. “developing proposals” for “major cuts in tactical nuclear weapons.” This is another major point of conflict with Russia, given the forward-basing of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons (B61 bombs) in Europe and the planned dramatic upgrade of those bombs over the coming decade, a project DoD has estimated will cost more than $10 billion. The almost brand-new B61-12 bomb would combine pinpoint accuracy, a wide range of yields and delivery options, a brand-new stealthy delivery platform (the F-35), and forward basing, which reduces the warning time of any attack on Russia. Russian
Mr. Obama is currently requesting funding for nuclear warhead and delivery systems “modernization” projects with total capital cost in the neighborhood of $200 billion over the coming 20 to 30 years, depending on the accounting assumptions used. These projects assume a very large, diverse nuclear arsenal with expanded military capabilities, a revitalized production complex for warheads, and the deployment of four untested new or nearly new warheads in a highly ambitious plan his administration calls the “3+2″ warhead plan, not counting the B61-12.
In today’s speech Mr. Obama appears to have embarked on a kind of public diplomacy, in that everything he says he will do is contingent on the future actions of Russia.
There are indeed specific policy changes signaled in today’s announcement, but these were not spelled out. Some of them may run counter to the disarmament and nonproliferation theme of the published remarks.
In recent years some of the elder statesmen of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, notably the so-called Four Horsemen (George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn) have advocated a public pursuit of the goal of nuclear disarmament, while not actually advocating disarmament per se — and, in other communications, privately supporting nuclear weapons investments. It appears that this administration is following their advice.
Study Group Director Greg Mello: “The import of this speech is minimal in most respects. In key respects the administration means very nearly the opposite of what it seems to say today. In April the Obama Administration unveiled a massive program of nuclear modernization, which was nowhere mentioned today. This program will cost literally hundreds of billions of dollars over three decades.
“When the president says he will ‘work to build support in the United States to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,’ he really means a larger wave of spending by the crony contractors who run the nuclear weapons complex.
“We urge everyone to look into the President’s actions — and the lack thereof — not his words. They are far from aligned. It is up to all of us to ensure that President Obama’s nuclear legacy will not lie in nuclear modernization and the perfection of propaganda that aims to guide us to the opposite conclusion.”